Mark International Democracy Day by Aiding Frontline Defenders

Washington

As the United Nations marks International Day of Democracy, Freedom House urges democratic leaders to ramp up support for frontline defenders working to reverse global declines in freedom in some of the world's most repressive regimes.  

"Authoritarians are shameless in their campaign to undermine democracy and deny billions of people their human rights to free expression, association and belief," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Democracies must be just as bold in censuring acts of persecution and speaking out about injustice."

Freedom House reported a third consecutive year of global democratic decline in the latest edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. In 2008, the number of electoral democracies in the world fell to 119 and Freedom House noted significant declines in the former Soviet Union and Sub-Saharan Africa. South Asia saw improvement.

A number of high-profile cases this year illustrate the threats that democracy advocates face. Russia has seen a rash of lethal attacks on human rights activists, including the killing in July of Natalya Estemirova, an investigator in Chechnya for the rights group Memorial. In Iran, security forces face allegations of torture and murder connected to a government crackdown in which hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested for opposing the conduct of the June presidential elections. In July, China arrested prominent human rights attorney Xu Zhiyong and shuttered the legal aid organization he founded, the Open Constitution Initiative. In the same month, Venezuela's government introduced a new draft "media crimes" law and threatened to close more than 240 radio stations for allegedly failing to register.

At the same time, the world's democracies appear increasingly hesitant to promote democracy, despite the fact that the right to participate in public life is enshrined as a universal human right in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Democracies outnumber authoritarian regimes 2 to 1 on the UN Human Rights Council which began its 12th regular session this week. However, a new report from Freedom House finds that repressive regimes are investing more resources in the council and have successfully prevented it from addressing the world's human rights crises.

"Billions of people in the world are denied their human right to have a voice in the way that they are governed," said Windsor. "We have a responsibility to speak out on their behalf and challenge governments that seek to deny their citizens this right."

To learn more, read:

UN Human Rights Council Report Card: 2007-2009
Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians
Freedom in the World 2009
Nations in Transit: Democracy's Dark Year
Freedom of the Press 2009

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties worldwide since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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